In addition to the topping-out ceremony of the halls of Audi’s new automobile factory in Hungary, there was another reason for Thomas Faustmann, CEO of Audi Hungaria Motor Kft., to celebrate in May: he was the first non-Hungarian citizen to be awarded the Mór Wahrmann medal by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences for his ten-year work to promote Hungarian education and training.
What is the award exactly?
The prize, which was first awarded in 1897 by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, recognises outstanding scientific achievements and efforts to promote research, development and education.
What were you awarded it for?
For Audi Hungaria’s outstanding contribution to the field of education and scientific work. At Audi we have the slogan “Vorsprung durch Technik” (progress through technology). However, in order to achieve that Vorsprung durch Technik, we need excellently trained employees both in the production and engineering fields. That explains our strong commitment to all aspects of education.
How is your company active in that respect?
Our cooperation with the István Széchenyi University in Gyõr, for example, is particularly intensive. Three new departments have since been established with the major involvement of Audi Hungaria. A laboratory for combustion engines was also built there, enabling us to perform online attrition tests, which is unique in Central and Eastern Europe. In the first six semesters the students learn the relevant and up-to-date specialist knowledge. That is followed by a master’s degree from the seventh to the tenth semester, which includes exclusive guest lectures to ensure that current knowledge and special know-how from the automobile industry are passed on. One special thing about the master’s degree is that it can also be taken in German. That means the graduates, should they enter our company, are immediately able to communicate with colleagues in Germany, Mexico or China. Regardless of where the Volkswagen Group is present in the world, German is spoken everywhere. Of course we also speak English, but when it comes to technical questions, then German is our common language.
What role does education and training play for Audi Hungaria in particular?
The most important and essentially only usable “resource” that Hungary has is its people. That was one of the most important factors that led us to choose Hungary as a location originally, and again more recently when deciding to build a new automobile factory. Naturally those people need to be well-trained, especially in view of Hungary’s strong competition for investments and ultimately jobs. The level of education and training is particularly important to us in the high-technology field, which is why we go to such great efforts. We now have 155 highly qualified development engineers in engine development and another 30 development engineers in vehicle development.
Why do you get so strongly involved in education and training?
In line with our Vorsprung durch Technik slogan, highly innovative products of premium quality are produced in Gyõr. For that we need excellently trained skilled workers who can operate, maintain and repair machines independently. In terms of the level of education, both vocational training and engineering sciences have great room for improvement. That’s why we took professional training into our own hands. One of the first steps is the training of Hungarian trainers. We have been supported in these two to three years by experts from Germany. We teach young people, for example, how to programme, operate and maintain robots and CNC metal-cutting machines. We have by now built up the expertise to be able to maintain Audi Hungaria’s complete machine line-up ourselves, using Hungarian employees, I should note. To reach that stage, we needed to develop training and education ourselves to a great degree.
Is your company more involved in vocational training in Hungary than in Germany?
Primarily it is a question of implementing the Audi standards, which we transmit to Hungary. We need to place more emphasis on practical training in Hungary. Education and training in Hungary is still too strongly focused on theory, and the acquisition of practical skills is often sidelined. Our machinery runs in three shifts. The employees in many cases need to make decisions for themselves. To do so, they need not only the relevant knowledge but also a healthy degree of self-confidence in their own abilities. Both are important points required both by our skilled workers and our engineers.
Can you observe any improvements in a practical sense with reference to the new Hungarian vocational training law?
Yes, I can observe a certain degree of improvement in some fields, although to my mind the steps still aren’t quick enough and don’t go far enough. The attempt to hang on to the old system can still be clearly felt. That’s why it’s important that companies like Audi are contributing to active knowledge transfer and the establishment of new teaching methods.
Are you aware of any developments or improvements to the law?
We address the topic at all our meetings with the responsible representatives of the Hungarian state. We explain what our expectations are regarding the quality of education and what our needs are. Personally I’m convinced that one reason Germany is so strong and successful in Europe is that it has a highly productive industrial sector, which results from the fact that there are engineers who know what they are doing, good management and skilled workers capable of performing given tasks. The key thing is the presence of competent, qualified employees at all levels of the company.
In other words, while the state does not fully satisfy your needs in terms of the education and training offered, it falls to you to take the initiative.
Naturally we can’t wait until we get the people we need in a more or less ready condition. After all, we have a job to do, which is that of producing technically innovative products of premium quality at the right time and in the quantity desired by the customer at an optimal cost level. To satisfy those requirements we need the right people. If we don’t have them, then we have to look for them. And when we’ve found them, and they aren’t properly qualified yet, then we need to provide additional education and training. Essentially, however, we are very satisfied with the Hungarian employees of Audi Hungaria, and I am not only thinking here of the wage costs.
What else are you thinking of?
What we like so much about our employees is their great enthusiasm. We can really feel clearly that they like working for us. They work with a degree of motivation and dedication that in some cases no longer exists even in Germany.
How are the educational activities of Audi Hungaria supported by the parent company?
We are fully supported by Audi AG in this field too, both financially and in terms of human resources. Several German trainers are always here with us in Gyõr. One of their roles is to train Hungarian employees as future trainers. Of course all that costs money. However, anyone who says that education is expensive should call to mind the costly consequences of failure to invest in the training of their employees in time. Then they will know what expensive really means.
Let’s talk about another major Audi Hungaria topic: what will change for you as a result of the new automobile factory?
We have given ourselves two major challenges. One is that we now need to focus on two main areas. Earlier I could concentrate to a much greater degree on engine production. Today I need to divide my attention across two building sites, namely engine production and automobile production. The second point is the question of staff. There must not be staff development at the cost of the existing areas. It helps us in that regard to internalise one of our values, namely team play. Our entire factory with all its employees can be regarded as a large team. Ultimately there is only one person responsible for whether we are successful or not: the customer. It’s only if we can inspire our customers to buy our new cars that there is money for us. We are pushing ahead with the growth of the workforce in vehicle production just as strategically and determinedly as in the past. In the past months we recruited several hundred employees specifically for vehicle production. Around 300 of them are currently at other Audi sites in Europe, where they are working in production and are acquiring the theoretical and practical know-how that they will later need here in Gyõr.
Aside from the possible workforce competition, there can also be competition in terms of attention from the top management. How do you deal with that?
It is important to keep a balance here too. Last Friday I spent the whole afternoon in the engine production factory looking at the new lines and the new processes. The emphasis on vehicle and engine production and Audi Hungaria’s other business segments needs to remain equal. However, I don’t believe there’s a risk of imbalance because we continue to grow dynamically in all fields: in engine production, in vehicle production and in tool making. Technical development is also growing rapidly. That needs to be flanked by a growth in the entire infrastructure. We need new office buildings and social areas. A new staff restaurant is just being built. The entire management of the factory, the financial processes and controlling also need to keep pace. None of the fields I have mentioned will be able to complain about lack of attention for the foreseeable future.
Audi hits 2,000,000 milestone
The Audi Hungária Motor Kft. factory in Gyõr has completed the two millionth six-cylinder diesel engine, a type that makes up 11 per cent of its total annual output. The milestone engine, which has been in its lineup for the past 15 years, was one of 800 similar units completed on Monday.
The factory’s 500 workers manufacture 26 types of V6 TDI blocks. The plant employs 5,600 people who daily make 7,000 engines of 240 different types. Audi announced a EUR 900 million expansion of the factory in September 2010, to be completed next year with an annual output of 125,000 cars.